Special Needs Classroom Computer Lab help!


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Looking for help with an iMac computer lab. I work at a residential school for special needs, and we have had a Mac computer lab for 25 years. The setup has always been this: 20 Mac clients in the lab and a server. My students could find their account on any of the Mac clients and could log on and find their documents. This setup has been perfect for the special needs population I teach.

Right before the pandemic hit, the school purchased 20 new iMacs and a Mac mini to be used as the server. (clients:21.5 inch, 2017 model. 2.3 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5; server: mac mini 2018, 3GHz 6 core Intel core i5). The OS was Mojave for both clients and server. Our IT guy then was wonderful and almost everything was running smoothly. As expected there were a few glitches, but he always figured things out and then taught me what to do.

Then the pandemic. I did not have class in my lab for several months, and, sadly, our IT guy passed quite unexpectedly.

During the past year, we slowly got back into our classrooms, and glitches started happening to the Macs: we couldn’t set up the mail program so that the students could email using their school address. Also, I was not able to create new user accounts that were accessible on the Mac clients. Everything looked exactly right on the server, but still inaccessible for the students.

We hired a replacement, who was here very briefly, and did not do any work on the mac lab.

Then one or two at a time, the Mac clients would no longer allow anyone to log onto their user account. This happened over the course of 2-3 months, until, finally, I turned off the server and had all my students use the guest user account.

Our current IT person has tried to fix things (he is not a Mac person). For a time, he had all the previous user accounts working, using OS Mojave. But still, no new user accounts could be successfully created.

Then, he upgraded the mac mini, and all the iMacs to Big Sur. He also upgraded the Server app to 5.11.1

Now currently, NO user accounts are available; only the guest user and the admin account can be used. This means that my students are not able to save their work, nor their progress on academic software.

Our IT person tells me that he cannot find any Apple people to come onsite to work, and that phone support has been less than helpful. He says that it is impossible to set the lab up the way it has been, and that the only alternative is to assign students specific Macs to work on and save their work. (This isn’t really an option in a special needs setup – plus my lab serves 130-150 students each week).

Is there a way to get this lab working so that a student can access their account from any of the Mac clients? Or am I fighting a losing battle? If so, are there any good alternative setups?

I am not technically proficient in this new setup, but I can follow directions like nobody’s business.

Thank you in advance for any help or advice.
Peggy
 
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Cory Cooper

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Hello and welcome.

First off, sorry for your loss and difficulty during this unprecedented time. We appreciate the wonderful work you are doing with the special needs students.

There could be several things at play here...none of which are easy to diagnose without being in person and having hands-on the Mac mini server and the iMacs. Most of it would depend on how the server is setup, if the iMacs are using Open Directory, and where the student accounts are stored/synced to the server.

Honestly, it would probably be in your best interest to find a local person that has experience with macOS and macOS Server to come in and review the situation. Or, there may be another school/district close by that has some IT folks that could lend a hand. Yes, that can be a difficult thing to do, but you may have a little luck here:

Apple Consultants Network
Apple - User Groups
Apple - Get Support

Let us know how that goes and good luck!

C
 
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Thank you so much. Will give those suggestions a try - anyone else, please don't hesitate to chime in - the students love the Macs and I don't want to have to switch over to PCs.
 

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